Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Swag, Speakers and Selfies......my BlogHer '14 recap!

So, I have returned from my very first BlogHer and my very first conference. Several months ago, my sweet, supportive spouse heard me waxing poetic about going to BlogHer - I've always wanted to go! - and began to ask me very detailed questions about it. I wondered about his sudden interest but was still quite surprised when he presented me with a full-conference pass, and an already-booked room at the Marriott for that far-away month of July. As an added bonus, he even bought my 18-year-old daughter a full-conference pass and sent her with me so I'd have company (and avoid the awkwardness that comes with meeting a few thousand new friends). Whatta guy!

All checked in and ready to conference! Apologies to Hannah who will hate me for posting this because she looked like a hobo. 

Now that I'm home, after this much-anticipated trip, I can say it was AMAZING. I loved it. Not every living, breathing minute of it, but overall I truly enjoyed my weekend and came home with some new perspective, twice as confused as when I left, and still feeling like I have no clue what "monetization" and "brands" have to do with my blog, and since when is "organic" such a catch word?

We arrived at the Marriott early, around 10 a.m., so we checked our bags into the valet service and wandered around a bit. I saw a post on the official Facebook page from Julie DeNeen to join her and some other bloggers at the pool at the Fairmont hotel. While this is normally outside my comfort zone, I convinced my daughter we should go and we headed over, swimsuits in hand. What we found was a wonderful group of women who were welcoming, informative, and funny! Heather PetriSamanthaJennyKatia, and Kim helped me navigate the upcoming conference while we, quite literally, dipped our toes in the water. We sipped frosty adult beverages poolside and dined on quesadillas and fries. Later, Elaine joined us and bought me a margarita. I was excited to meet Elaine, as our mutual friend, Amanda, had linked us up on Facebook before the conference. She turned out to be every bit as funny and warm as I imagined her to be and we hit it off, connecting several more times over the weekend to hang out and listen to keynote speakers. I left the pool party feeling inspired and ready to learn, and my daughter left with a nasty sunburn.

Ahhh! Fresh pedi, sippin' drinks poolside....this is the life! 


Me (r) and my new best friend, Elaine Ambrose, chugging some margaritas!

We returned to our hotel and our room was ready. We were tired and suffering from too much California sun so we were anxious to take a load off. What a surprise, then, when we opened our room. First, I noticed an object lying on the bed, but I wasn't alarmed because I heard there would be mystery swag gifts dropped off in our rooms so I assumed that's what it was. We strolled right into the darkened room and over to the bed to see what the amazing gift was and it appeared to be.........a wrinkled shirt? My eye immediately was drawn to a large, open suitcase in the corner. I swung around quickly to survey the room and saw a handsome set of golf clubs leaning in the corner. "Oh my God!" I shouted to my daughter, "We are in a MAN'S room!" I mean, I WAS pretty excited for my free gift, but I didn't expect it to be a MAN! Thanks, BlogHer! We skedaddled out of there, leaving behind the musky, after-shave scent, and back to the lobby where we explained the situation. The desk attendant asked if we would like a room on a higher floor. I replied that we would like a room with no man in it, please. We were assigned to another room, and I left uneasily, knowing that someone else's room key might actually open MY room. Also? The Marriott didn't seem to think it was a big deal that we had just invaded an innocent traveler's room while they were away.

We showered and got all gussied up for the Expo. I was pretty excited about this part because I AM A SWAG WHORE and I'm not ashamed to admit it. I eagerly visited each and every booth, scooping up free gifts and enjoying all the samples and treats. My daughter, more than once, admonished me for taking all the free samples: "Mom, we have to carry all of this back home, you know!" No matter, I went into it committed to checking my bag on the way back, fees be damned! There were free full-sized candles! Board games! Sunglasses! Stuffed animals! I left carrying a huge bag jammed with goodies, much to the chagrin of my teenager.

We are enough!

Omg! Free ice cream!

Even though I hate Greek yogurt, Yoplait wins for giving us gerbera daisies, my favorite flower!

Thanks for the free slushies Sonic!

Friday morning, we headed to the "Newbie Breakfast" for people like us who had never been to BlogHer. We were seated with veteran BlogHer attendees, and Rita Arens, from BlogHer, sat at our table. I used this as my first opportunity to network and whipped out my business cards that I'd had printed at Staples two days before the conference (because I'm THAT organized). The founders of BlogHer spoke, but I was mostly anxious to get to the keynote because Jenny Lawson was speaking! THE BLOGGESS! I have followed her for a few years now, and recently read her book, so I was pretty excited to see her live and in person. She turned out to be every bit as charming and fun as I'd hoped and I enjoyed the interview. She told a story about when she went to BlogHer and was fangirling over Heather Armstrong, carrying all of Heather's books in her arms, and she had an awkward interaction with her. She let the room in tears, but not before someone HISSED at her. What? I slunk down in my chair a bit, because I actually had Jenny's book in my bag at that very moment. Crap. My first conference faux pas. Later, though, I had the last laugh when I didn't have to stand in line to buy Jenny's book but instead was one of the first in line to have her sign MY book. I relayed my story and asked her to please not hiss at me. She graciously told me she couldn't hiss if she tried, and signed my book. We got pictures, too! Squeee!

It's us! And The Bloggess! OMG!

The first session we attended was "Publishing: Getting Your First (Great) Book Deal." I've been thinking about writing and perhaps self-publishing a book for a while now, so this was definitely something I wanted to learn more about. Here's what I got out of it: Find an agent. A standard novel is 80,000 words. People respect people who have been vetted. (I had to look that up - seriously, guys, I'm smart, but I wasn't TOTALLY sure what "vetted" meant!) Check out Seal Press and She Writes. Let at least twelve people read your pitch before you send it. I am still not totally sure what a pitch is or looks like. Ugh.

I was so happy it was lunchtime because my brain was full and I had a lot of questions floating around in there. Lunch was sandwiches, salads and fruit tarts and a healthy dose of Tig Notaro, a hilarious comedian who I will admit I had no idea about until the conference. My younger, cooler daughter recognized her from Conan O'Brien. She was hilarious and a crowd favorite. We even gave her a "forced standing ovation!" Check her out. Tig Notaro, folks. During these keynotes, the 10x10 speakers were sprinkled in. These were ten blogging gurus (I think?) who spoke on the future of blogging. Some were engaging. Some had me scrolling my Facebook feed. But - a highlight of lunch was that Carrie Rocha, the engaging (and very realistic) author of "Pocket Your Dollars" sat next to me! Fangirling again! Another author I've read and I got to talk to her. And take selfies with her! And she's just so darn nice.

Hi Carrie! Thanks for writing a book about budgeting and saving money that didn't make me cry!

The second workshop we attended was "Publishing: What a Freelance Writing Career Really Looks Like." This consisted mostly of a panel of freelance writers telling us about their jobs and experiences. Sounds about right, according to the title, but I was really hoping for something concrete to take away with me. Instead, my notes read like this: Pitch a finished piece. No response in 48 hrs, no go. Pitch relentlessly. Use contact page. Use Google. If anyone tweets you, contact them and ask if you can pitch them. Again, my brain was asking "What, exactly, does a pitch look like?" But alas, no answers. We didn't even stay for the question and answer time because the moderator, Jennifer Pozner, interjected saying she was going to "talk about myself" for a while because "I'm the moderator and I can." After she droned on, listing her accomplishments for several minutes, my daughter and I scooted out the back door. This session left me feeling flat.

Kicking ass and taking names........ahem, notes.........

The BEST part of the conference was the Voices of the Year. I found this to be the most inspiring part of the conference - listening to women read their winning entries for the VOTY contest. The blogs ranged from funny to heartwarming to thought-provoking. I submitted several of my blog posts for consideration in this contest but was not chosen. But the ones that were chosen? They were mostly fantastic. A few were not spectacular, but many were not only well-written but delivered with animated joy, sorrow or rage. I loved it!

Can we just admire this logo for a minute? 

Afterward, there was a reception which we decided to count as dinner with all the yummy finger foods, free champagne and more networking. Then came the Open House Suite Parties. This was a group of parties held in suites at the Hilton hotel. We chose to attend the GoldieBlox open house - if you're not familiar with GoldieBlox, they are basically pink Tinker Toys and they promote themselves by appealing to parents of young children who are embracing STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), a new learning concept that is gaining momentum in public schools. But honestly? They're nothing special, and the party was just ok. Next, we hit the Queerosphere party, because, why not? I'm not queer, and neither is my daughter, but her sister, my other daughter, is, so we figured we'd pay our respects to her tribe. We were greeted by Deb Rox, who was one of the (really good) speakers, who handed us drink tickets and warmly welcomed us. We wandered around, mostly impressed by the Jenga-like cheese tower, took in the view from the twenty-something-eth floor, and left after just a few minutes because we didn't really know what to do or who to talk to. We decided to check out the Flawed, But Authentic party, which turned out to be someone selling DoTerra essential oils. It smelled good and all, but eh. We got our free samples and went back to our hotel room to get some sleep.

But before we could sleep, we needed to eat. We were hungry and after debating for a while, we decided to splurge and order room service. We were told it would be 45 minutes so we settled in with our respective electronic devices and waited. An hour later, no food had arrived, so we called the front desk. We were told our server had "dropped" our tray during delivery and that they were making new food and putting a rush on it. When our food did finally arrive, it was nearly an hour and a half later, and it arrived on a rolling cart. How did the server "drop" our food if it was on a rolling cart? Hmmm. They did include a nice cheese tray and a plate of truffles as a consolation, and comped our food order. Which would have been fantastic if the food had arrived earlier but, as a result of eating a sandwich and chips and nearly 11 p.m., I spent most of the night with the world's worst heartburn and no sleep.

We so FANCY!

Also, just before I climbed into my fresh, white hotel bed, I noticed a spot of BLOOD on the comforter. I called the front desk who nonchalantly said they would send housekeeping up. The housekeeper was sufficiently horrified and quickly changed the bedding. At least someone else thought it was as gross and unacceptable as we did. But apparently the Marriott is not shocked by sending strangers into other guests' rooms or blood on the sheets. Ew.

Saturday dawned bright and (way too) early and we enjoyed a hearty breakfast. The keynote focused on the future of the social web, which sounded really interesting at first, but quickly turned into a room full of women looking at their phones.I tried to stick it out to see Arianna Huffington, but I just couldn't do it. I felt a bit guilty sneaking out early but my eyes were glazing over. Plus, I wanted to hit up the Expo for more free stuff! And I managed to sneak in a quick picture of Arianna inside the Expo. I didn't buy her book and to be honest, I don't know what it's about.

Also? I didn't know Huffington Post doesn't pay writers. WHAT? 

Sorry, not sorry. This session left a lot to be desired. 

For the first session of the day, my daughter and I decided to go separate ways - me to Mom Blogging: The Next Ten Years and her to Screenplay Writing. In retrospect, I wish I had joined her because she came out of her session inspired, fired-up, motivated and with a free book, while I left mine immediately after it ended, having waited a long time to be chosen for a question even though I was the first to raise my hand. I did learn some good tips on how to deal with critics (shut the laptop), to not do reviews for free, that bloggers are very powerful and can destroy a brand, and that the "mommy blogger" tag is limiting. Still, nothing huge, enlightening......no a-ha! moments for me in this one.

Lunch was a paltry salad and the leftover fruit from breakfast. The keynote was Kerry Washington, who was delightful, but who I also didn't know before the conference. I don't watch much TV, although when I Googled her I vaguely recalled hearing about her. I left just before she took her now-famous (in blogging circles) selfie. But - the best part of lunch - was that Deva Dalporto sat next to me! I'm a big fan of her blog "My Life Suckers" and recently she has gained notoriety for her humorous parody videos, notably, "I'm So Cranky" (to the tune of "I'm So Fancy" by Iggy Azalea). Fangirling again! What are the chances? She was so sweet and helpful and told me to email her anytime for ideas. So cool.

Kerry Washington doing the "quarter behind your ear" magic trick. Just kidding. 

Me and Deva Dalporto! Check out her parody videos here and here

The afternoon session was a series of "Mini-Cons." We wandered to the rooms, reading the descriptions and could not really find a "con" that was right for us. Boomer and Beyond? Not there yet. Craft? Eh, we're not that crafty. Healthy Living? Sounded ok, but seemed more geared toward food bloggers. Special Needs? Although I work with special needs kids, it's not a huge part of my life and I never blog about it, so that one didn't seem right either. Style? We were interested in this one and wandered into the room, only to realize it was filled with style bloggers. Maybe not. The Future of Personal Blogging? This one sounded good to me, but was packed full by the time we arrived and by then my daughter was losing interest and really just wanted a nap. We ducked into the Expo long enough to snap a picture of Khloe Kardashian, get another sample of Baskin and Robbins ice cream, and pick up a few more freebies. Then, we headed back to the hotel room after stopping at Starbucks to refuel after the measly lunch.

Khloe, your hair is FABULOUS! What do you use? 

My daughter was still slumbering peacefully when it was time for the closing keynote. I left her dreaming and attended alone. This time, I met up with my friend Elaine, and we listened to a panel of women discuss race and gender and how it applies to social media. It was interesting and I really enjoyed the 10x10 talks by Stacy Ferguson and Katherine Stone.

Finally it was PARTY TIME! The closing party was hosted by McDonald's (an odd choice) and the featured food was.......happy meals. Yes, you read that right. Happy Meals. Oh, and wine and beer, which we didn't partake in, but probably should have because a Happy Meal just doesn't satisfy like it used to. No matter, though, because the amazing Rev Run from Run DMC was the host of the party and he spun us back to the 80's. My daughter laughed at all the "middle-aged women dancing" and I tried to take sneaky pictures from the side of the stage when the Rev himself saw me and posed for my camera!

Yo, Rev!

Hannah, Elaine, and I at the closing party

Sadly, his set only lasted about an hour and he was being whisked away. The music fell silent and we wandered around wondering what to do for the next two hours. I suggested the jello-shot party being held at the Fairmont, but my 18-going-on-90 daughter suggested an early bedtime. I conceded but on our way home we spied the Bijou bakery and stepped in for some gelato.


The next morning we slept in a teensy bit later than normal (for the past couple of days), checked out of our hotel room and took a taxi to the airport. We left the Marriott in a taxi at 9:35 and were waiting at our gate at the airport at 9:58. That included the ride there, checking a bag, waiting in security and walking to our gate. Wow! We were exhausted, exhilarated, and elated that we'd just had an incredible weekend shoring up our mother/daughter bond and experiencing the greatness that is a convention full of bloggers, changing the world one word at a time.

Such a great weekend with my girl!

Yes, we can!

Happy blogger!

Thanks, BlogHer '14! We had a fantastic time! 


Michelle said...

What a great experience for you and your daughter to share! It was my first BlogHer, too, and I truly enjoyed it - my favorite was connecting with and meeting new bloggers.

Brighter Schemata said...

Loved your recap, and the mixup with the man's hotel room cracked me up! Glad you had fun! :)

Www.elaineambrose.com said...

Miss you already! Come back to Idaho soon.

Rita Arens said...

Hi! Glad you had fun. I can't wait to take MY daughter to BlogHer when she's 18. :)

Julie DeNeen said...

It was great getting to meet you! I'm sorry we didn't run into each other more, but alas- we have the blogosphere for that right? :)

jeff said...

I'm glad you had a great time and came back overwhelmed and confused. That's exactly what a conference is supposed to do. Let the information seep into the cracks and go from there. Love you!

Deva Dalporto said...

Hey! It was great meeting you at BlogHer as well! xo, Deva

Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms said...

I enjoyed reading your recap. Chose BlogU over BlogHer this year. Sounds like the VOTY reception was a little better than the one they had in Chicago.

That is CRAZY about the Marriott mix-ups. Yikes. Ellen